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Here’s all the food and drink to try as Durango opens

Updated December 5, 2023 - 12:06 pm

The new Durango casino punctuates the point — in a $780 million way — that the southwest is the latest flavor stronghold in the Las Vegas Valley.

There have been early scouts, such as The Black Sheep.

Later encampments, such as Firefly Tapas, Locale Italian Kitchen and Basilico Ristorante Italiano. And UnCommons, with Amari and The Sundry food hall among its options, forms a significant settlement.

But there’s nothing like an 83,000-square-foot locally owned casino-hotel tower, with six stand-alone spots and a food hall with 11 purveyors, to round out an entire slice of the city as a food and drink destination.

“It’s a hugely developing area. We’re always trying to get out ahead of something that’s relevant,” said Dave Horn, vice president and general manager of Durango, a Station Casinos property.

Here’s the reconnaissance on all the tasty from the casino resorton South Durango Drive near the 215 Beltway:

Stand-alone concepts

Nicco’s Prime Cuts & Fresh Fish. A fish market with flown-in booty from the briny deep — the other evening, red snapper and langoustines rest on ice — lies near the entrance to Nicco’s. The restaurant encompasses three dining rooms, two private dining spaces and a terrace with burbling fountains. A chandelier that resembles a coiled copper peel commands the central room.

You might try bluefin tuna topped with Kaluga caviar and gold flakes, sharpened by balsamic glaze. Or a bone-in 14-ounce filet mignon. Branzino is dry-aged, a technique of the moment in which the fish is aged on hooks in temperature-controlled refrigerators to yield better texture, cleaner flavor and less fishiness.

“We’re not sharing a (typically) small branzino,” said Daniel Ye, executive chef of Durango. “Just look at the size of our branzino.”

Mijo Modern Mexican Restaurant. Long brick spirals, like sun-dried strands of DNA, form the lead-up to Mijo Modern. The striking entrance leads to an equally striking dining room, moodily arranged around a central bar. The menu celebrates coastal Mexico, with charred octopus, coconut ceviche, tacos with shrimp swaddled in guajillo crema and a 3-pound grilled lobster.

Tequilas and mezcals take a star turn, “anything from your standard tequilas to something more esoteric (like Bozal pechuga). We’re really delving into our tequilas and mezcals,” said Keith Eure, vice president of Clique Hospitality, which created the restaurant.

You’ll want to try the agave spirits in Wax Rabbit, the speakeasy hidden within Mijo Modern. Pull the right rabbit head to enter the speakeasy, a plush profusion of red. The name Wax Rabbit nods to the legend of 400 drunken rabbits from indigenous Mexican folklore. Call it the bunny buzz.

The George Sportsmen’s Lounge. Fine Entertainment Management, which developed The George, is known for its PKWY Taverns, among other holdings. The George, the new flagship for the group, “is the next evolution for sports viewing,” founder Jonathan Fine said. “It’s trying to bring a new demographic and viewer.”

That goal starts with the layout of the lounge, which is adjacent to the sportsbook but set in a tier above. This separation affords views of the big screens while allowing minors to dine. A scoop of blue coffered ceiling stretches above a bar with spirits stacked in tall cages. The restaurant gives onto a capacious trellised terrace with a bar, seating and games.

The menu, designed to attract that new demo, runs to baked goat cheese, a hummus duo, a trio of grilled lamb ribs, a quartet of seared U10 scallops and a 32-ounce Tomahawk ribeye (which was sufficient to share the other evening).

Summer House. Do you feel that breeze blowing in from Zuma? Summer House is bringing its balmy California-inspired cuisine to the hot winds of the desert. What does it mean to say you cook California cuisine today, 50 years on from Alice Waters and avocados? It begins with access.

“We’re close enough to Southern California to get all the great ingredients. Produce, ranches, wines, fantastic artisans: Everything is there,” said Ben Goodnick, executive chef of the four Summer House restaurants created by Lettuce Entertain You. “Beyond that, there’s the amazing cultural blending in that area.”

Goodnick proposed the ahi tuna tostada as a representative specimen, the ahi abetted by Hass avocados and Thai chilis. Tuck into the tostadas or spinach kale pizza or corn husk salmon in the soaring white-walled space laden with greenery and natural light. “We’re really going for a summer house,” the chef said.

Bel-Aire Lounge. The name Bel-Aire aims to invoke, in a general sense, the posh precincts of Bel Air (with a stylish hyphen and a second e). The room testifies to the power of taupe and sandstone and other neutrals.

Grab a seat in one of the arched bowers glowing like burnished gold (with stenciled palms), or at one of the low-slung couches with views to the pool. Both provide a prime perch for sipping a Pink Flamingo (tequila, orange curaçao, orgeat, lime, dragon fruit) served in a flamingo-necked goblet. (The neck means you’ll need a straw to enjoy.)

Bel-Aire opens at 11 a.m. for coffee and lunch. “Past 8 p.m., the energy builds,” said Eure, the Clique Hospitality vice president. “The vibe increases as the night goes on. We want this to be the intersection of elegance, energy and vibe.”

Oasis Lounge. Neutrals flourish at Oasis, too, the tones meant to conjure the sands of a desert oasis or the oasis of a tropic isle. A Vitamin Sea cocktail, a take on a gin sour, reflects this theme with Botanist gin, blue spirulina, orgeat, bergamot and bracing notes of licorice root and Suze aperitif.

The cocktail, the color of a sunny lagoon (or of faded brocade), marks a shift from craft cocktails that have relied too much on simple syrup or other sugary elements.

“People’s palates are becoming a lot drier. They like more of the acidity. Spice, herbaceous and botanicals versus fruitiness and sweet and candied,” said David Bonatesta, the property mixologist for Durango.

Eat Your Heart Out food hall

New-to-market concepts

Ai Pono Café, from chef-owner Gene Villatora, brings modern Hawaii street food with chicken teriyaki bowls, garlic mahi mahi mix plates and Portuguese sausage musubi. An image of Bruno Mars watches the dining room.

Fiorella comes courtesy of chef Marc Vetri of Philadelphia, a James Beard Award winner who already has Osteria Fiorella at sister property Red Rock Resort. Take a seat in the tiled space for prosciutto di Parma or cacio e pepe made with tonnarelli, the square spaghetti of Rome.

Irv’s Burgers, an L.A. institution founded in 1946, sports a big red sign and a ticker-tape frieze listing its menu items. Chili cheese fries, a beef and pastrami Irv’s Burger and a vanilla milkshake make the meal.

Prince Street Pizza started out in New York City. The pizzeria is known for its round Neapolitan pies and Square Sicilian versions. Browse the pizzas by the slice or grab a whole pie like a signature Prince Perfection built with marinara, fresh mozzarella and Pecorino-Romano. Add $5 for a gluten-free square.

Uncle Paulie’s, another L.A. transplant, features blue awnings, a white-tiled kitchen and counter seating. The menu draws inspiration from New York delis: macaroni and potato salads, a scoop of tuna fish salad, scrambled eggs and cheese on a poppy seed bagel, a Bodega sandwich layering turkey and muenster.

Vegas mainstays

Nielsen’s Frozen Custard, a family-owned outfit from Henderson, offers its namesake dish (rich with eggs and cream) in standard flavors and flavors of the day (plus toppings). There are also sundaes, brownies and floats.

Oyster Bar supplies Station Casinos history on the half shell. The bar nods to the famed Oyster Bar at Palace Station, perennially name among the best oyster bars in Vegas. Settle in for seasonal oysters, littleneck clams, shrimp gumbo, seafood jambalaya and made-to-order pan roasts.

Shang Artisan Noodle occupies a quietly beautiful space, with framed Chinese instruments, panels depicting urban scenes from old China and fixtures that resemble wire wormholes. The restaurant, already a locals favorite from the west side, is sending out Shang fried rice, dan dan noodles and wonton soup.

Vesta Coffee opens at Durango following locations in the Arts District and Summerlin, and sales through Whole Foods, Sprouts and direct-to-consumer. Menu highlights: espressos and Americanos, vanilla cardamom latte, iced organic black tea, almond croissants, elote street corn salad and a Hawaiian Benedict sandwich with Spam.

Yu-Or-Mi Sushi & Sake Bar expands to Eat Your Heart Out from downtown Vegas. There’s an L-shaped counter, a back bar curving forward and caged lanterns populating the ceiling. Look for salmon carpaccio, yellowtail spiked with yuzu vinaigrette, sushi platters, a yaki udon stir-fry of uni and noodles, and a locker stocked with sakes.

DRNK. This bar dispenses colorful frozen cocktails such as a Concord Crush (Ciroc vodka, bluberry crème de cassis, Concord grape) or an Aviation (Sipsmith Gin, crème de violette, Luxardo Maraschino liqueur). The cocktails come in the big chill (24 ounces) or a flight of four (8 ounces each).

Contact Johnathan L. Wright at jwright@reviewjournal.com. Follow @JLWTaste on Instagram and @ItsJLW on X.

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